This Sunday (10/28/12) I will preach my final sermon from John’s Apocalypse—the Book of Revelation.[1] We will cover chapters 21-22. This will be the ninth sermon in this series. I covered the entire apocalypse, with the exception of chapters 15-16, in just nine sermons. Wow. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.

Upon careful scrutiny, the artistic beauty and structural genius of John’s masterpiece come to the forefront. It truly is a magnificent work of art. Here is a look at the structure of the drama:

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Act One:

1. The Prologue, 1:1-20.

2. Scene One: The Church in Imperfection – The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, 2:1 – 3:22.

3. Scene Two: The Authority of God over Evil Explained – The Seven Seals on the Scroll, 4:1 – 8:6.

4. Scene Three: The Warning Judgments – The Seven Trumpets, 8:1 – 11:19.

Act Two:

* Center Scene: The Lamb, God’s Answer to Evil – The Seven Unnumbered Figures and Angelic Messages, 12:1 – 14:20.

4. Scene One: The Consummated Judgments – The Seven Bowls of Wrath, 15:1 – 16:21.

3. Scene two: The Authority of God over Evil Exercised – 7 Descriptions of God’s Authority, 17:1 – 20:15.

2. Scene Three: The Church in Perfection, 21:1 – 22:5.

1. The Epilogue, 22:6-21.

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I can’t get the editor on this blog page to cooperate, but if I could, I would progressively indent each scene in the two acts so that you would notice that the structural frame forms the left-hand side of the letter “X.” This is called chiasm, from the Greek word for the letter “X” – chi. John has created a chiasmus with the structure of his apocalypse.

The drama is presented in two acts: act one is comprised of chapters 1-11; act two is comprised of chapters 12-22.

Notice how each scene in act one moves us toward the center scene—chapters 12-14. This is the center of the drama and the heart of John’s message: the Lamb of God is God’s answer to evil.

Then notice how each scene in act two mirrors—in reverse order—each scene in act one. Again, this is artistic genius at its finest.

Recognizing this structure helps in the interpretation of the work. For example, much debate and speculation surrounds chapters 21-22. There John describes the holy city with its gates of pearl and its streets of gold (21:21).[2]

Is this a description of heaven? Many people believe so. I have sung many songs about heaven’s streets of gold and I have heard many jokes that begin at the “pearly gates” of heaven. Saint Peter is there with the keys into heaven and the authority to allow us in or deny us access.

But if this is a description of heaven, then it is a very awkward one. Why? Because the city John describes is “coming down out of heaven” (21:2). How is that possible?

And, this city is referred to as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). That sounds like the church, doesn’t it?[3]

So is this a description of heaven or is it a description of the church? Which is it?

I am convinced that it is the church, not heaven. How can I be so sure? By carefully looking at the structure of John’s work.

In act one, scene one (chapters 2-3), what is John talking about? The church. No question about that.

Now look at the scene in act two that mirrors act one, scene one. Remember, act two progresses in reverse order; therefore, the corresponding scene in act two will be the final scene—chapters 21-22.

What is John talking about in the final scene of act two? Well, maybe heaven and maybe the church, for many it is not 100% clear. There are arguments that cut both ways.

But for my thinking, examining John’s structure removes any ambiguity. In both acts John is talking about the church. In act one, he is talking about the church in a state of imperfection; in act two, he is talking about the church in its perfection. Any ambiguity is eliminated once John’s structural framework is brought to bear on the question.


[1] The title is singular, Revelation, not plural, Revelations. Sorry, just a minor, technical pet peeve of mine.

[2] In fact, John says that there is only one street—singular—that is made of gold. He doesn’t mention any other streets.

[3] See Matthew 9:15, John 3:29, Romans 7:4, 1 Corinthians 6:15, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-33 for examples of Jesus being referred to as the “bridegroom” and his people, the church, being called his “bride.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

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